Israeli startup Powermat 390.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Powermat)
Anyone following the news this week will be aware that the United States is in
trouble. Its vaunted political system is driving it to ungovernability, and
while the moneyed elite still finds ways to benefit from the slide into
self-imposed paralysis, the overwhelming majority of the people are paying a
steadily rising price.
For Israelis, even more than for others among
America’s traditional allies, this process cannot but generate deep concern;
indeed, after the latest round of antics in Washington, alarm is justified and
It is therefore all the more encouraging to find, in the
midst of the gloom, confusion and disgust created by and felt toward Washington,
that there are still people engaged in constructive activity aimed at creating
growth, jobs and stronger links between Israel and the US. Almost needless to
say, this kind of effort is to be found not in Washington, nor in New York,
where longterm thinking means the profit and loss sheet for the next
I came across it, quite fortuitously, in Columbia, the state
capital of South Carolina. This past Tuesday, a lowkey ceremony was held in a
shiny new office complex across from the imposing old state legislature – where,
to my amazement, the Confederate flag (the “Stars and Bars”) proudly flutters in
the wind. The event being marked was the signing of an agreement to promote
joint ventures involving the two states – South Carolina and Israel.
and of itself, this is not dramatic or exciting stuff. It is actually the result
of prolonged efforts, stretching over three years, by some committed people on
both sides, who are all convinced that: a) there is a lot of potential business
to be done between South Carolina and Israel; and b) both sides have much to
gain and very little to lose from pursuing these opportunities and turning the
potential into reality.
So “our man in Atlanta,” Opher Aviran, whose
official title is Israeli consul-general to the Southeast, and South Carolina’s
Secretary of Commerce Robert M. Hitt III (“call me Bob”) made the speeches and
signed the documents that marked what everyone agreed was a
Shai Robkin, the new president of the American-Israel Chamber
of Commerce in the Southeast, highlighted the efforts of his recently retired
predecessor, Tom Glaser, to put South Carolina on the map of Israel’s trade
bureaucrats and, via them, its business community. But it was Bill Mahoney, the
CEO of SCRA, a local version of Israel’s Matimop that facilitates the
commercialization of new technologies, who put it best: “This is the end only of
the initial stage, of formulating an agreement. It is the beginning of the real
And with that, after the obligatory photos and press release, they
all went back to work. Especially Jonathan Zucker, president of the Intertech
Group and chairman of the South Carolina-Israel collaboration, the group of
business people he founded and leads that pushed hardest for the agreement to
happen and is now looking to translate the vision and rhetoric into business
deals and investment flows in both directions.
It is all so boring, so
devoid in the kind of instant drama that might make the main TV news or become a
hot item on the twittering nitwittery that is the social media. The kind of
boring, humdrum stuff that people do every day to make a living, make their
businesses grow, create jobs and generate trade and economic growth. The
constructive, useful stuff that no one pays much attention to. Not like the
destructive, useless stuff in Washington, where the lunatics have taken over the
asylum and declared that “government is the problem.”
They are the
government, and they are the problem, so they have got it at least.
Israeli business people have not heard of South Carolina, and hardly any could
place it on the map. But they will. Just as an aside, it’s worth mentioning that
Boeing made South Carolina the site of its first production facility outside of
Seattle; kind of like Warren Buffett made his first ex-American investment in
the Upper Galilee.
I remember when the Israeli bureaucracy and business
sector hadn’t heard of Georgia and were unaware of what was happening in and to
Atlanta. But the days when the US consisted of two strips of light, one from
Boston to Washington and one from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with a large
black hole in between, are long gone.
If the US has a positive future,
and if Israel-US business ties are going to develop further, places like South
Carolina are going to become much more important – at the well-deserved expense
of Washington, DC.